Chicago Colleges: Corey Robinson

Notre Dame mailblog

May, 23, 2014
May 23
5:00
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What's up, everybody?

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsThe fact that Charlie Weis received more money from Notre Dame than head coach Brian Kelly during the 2012 season was a cold splash of water in the face for many fans.
Teddy Marks from New Zealand writes: Matt, I am an American living down under. Your article is simply gobsmacking, as they say in Kiwiland. Notre Dame is not just an institution of higher learning, it is supposed to represent higher learning! The numbers you provide should make sane people sit up and ask, "What is going on?" A coach is fired and getting paid what?! Everything about this situation is just so wrong, but what's worse is that there are probably a dozen other comparable scenarios out there. Quite frankly, since the idea of a "student-athlete" is really from a bygone era, and what we have now are really professional wannabes posing as students. Maybe the guys at Northwestern are at least going to make the NCAA drop the charade of financial integrity with regard to the athletes in light of this sort of garbage in the coaching ranks -- garbage that is the norm and put right out there in front of everybody by Matt Fortuna. And let's not forget it's the presidents and boards, intellectual giants that they are, that make these contracts while they wring their hands over the latest tuition hike. At Notre Dame, you'd like to think the prez there would know what the Bible says about greed. Or stewardship. This note is undoubtedly rambling and incoherent. Still gobsmacked.

Matt Fortuna: Teddy, this might be the angriest, profanity-free, printable email or tweet I've ever received. And not entirely without merit, either. Bravo. (Coherent, too.)


Jack from Erie, Pa., writes: Notre Dame can only go to the Orange Bowl twice over the next 12 years. ... So if they go, say 10-2 this season, would one of those slots get used up right away? Also, how many at-large spots will there be in the new format? If the SEC champ is in the playoff, does their spot in the Sugar Bowl then become an at-large? I'm concerned in that there doesn't seem to be a ton of access for ND to the big bowls if they finish outside of the top four.

Matt Fortuna: Jack, if the Orange Bowl wants Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish are eligible for it, I see no reason why they wouldn't jump in. "Saving" a spot for a later year, so to speak, would be foolish on the Irish's end, in my opinion. The Irish have been to just one BCS bowl in the past seven years. The new format's elite games are three contract bowls with league tie-ins (Sugar, Rose, Orange) and three access bowls (Fiesta, Peach, Cotton) with none, with two of the six bowls rotating into the semifinals each year. The Sugar Bowl is a semifinal this upcoming season. But the access bowl spots will be filled by any power conference champion that didn't make the playoff and has no contract with one of the remaining elite bowls. The elite bowls must also take the highest-rated team from the group of non-power conferences. The highest-ranked remaining teams, as determined by the selection committee, would fill in the open top-tier bowl spots. This new format presents Notre Dame with many more bowl options than the BCS did, as the Irish have both the Orange Bowl deal and the ACC deal, which allows them to step over another ACC team for its spot in a non-elite bowl if the Irish's record is better than, equal to or within one of that ACC team, or ranked higher in the final standings.


Kj from Kent, Ohio, writes: Surprised you didn't mention William Fuller in your WR section of the spring wrap-up. He had as many catches as Corey Robinson did last year and would've had at least two more TDs if Tommy [Rees] had a DI arm. Don't sleep on Fuller, Matt!

Matt Fortuna: I'm not sleeping on Fuller, Kj! (Sorry for the yelling back.) I just believed Robinson deserved singling out among the sophomores given how much potential he has with that frame, and the fact that Brian Kelly raved this spring about how much he loved coaching Robinson. That said, it's anybody's guess as to who will emerge from the pack among the young guys. The opportunities are certainly there for the taking at receiver.

Notre Dame spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
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Three things we learned in the spring
  • The QB rotation is stable: Everett Golson is back from his 2013 suspension, hardened and bigger than ever. And Malik Zaire has taken full advantage of the opportunity Brian Kelly has given him, after Kelly declared the job open. (Notre Dame had just two scholarship quarterbacks this spring.) While few expect Golson to relinquish his hold on the starting role, the prospect of a hungry, capable backup has to make new QBs coach Matt LaFleur happy.
  • Greg Bryant looks like a playmaker: A rough start to Bryant's career last year might have been a blessing in disguise, as knee tendinitis allowed him to redshirt and essentially get a do-over in 2014. The returns this spring have been phenomenal, with the No. 2 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 bringing a burst to the run game that was absent last season. He turned heads in the spring game and says he is carrying a more mature head on his shoulders after last season, as he's hungry to get back on the field and make plays.
  • The secondary is primed to breakout: Notre Dame does not lack for bodies among its defensive backs. KeiVarae Russell enters his third year of starting ready to be one of the nation's top corners, and the Irish return four safeties with starting experience -- one of whom, Matthias Farley, moved to nickelback this spring. Throw in Florida transfer Cody Riggs at corner this summer -- as well as the aggressive approach of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who will bring more press coverage -- and the secondary has all of the ingredients to be very good in 2014.
Three questions for the fall
  • Where will the pass-rush come from? The Irish said goodbye to Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, two linemen who made their living in opposing backfields. There are simply no big, athletic bodies like them on this year's roster. With a revamped front-seven, VanGorder will be tasked with finding new ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps senior Ishaq Williams, now primarily at end, can add a boost to the line.
  • Which receivers will step up? With DaVaris Daniels (academics) gone this spring, it was essentially an open audition for Irish receivers, only two of whom had ever caught balls from Golson before (Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyack). Corey Robinson has continued his growth after a promising freshman campaign, and Koyack will have to emerge as a bigger receiving threat after handling mostly blocking duties next to the departed Troy Niklas. Daniels' expected return this summer will provide a major boost to this group.
  • Will special teams play finally improve? Few areas have given Notre Dame trouble in recent years the way special teams has, particularly the punt return game. Awful weather this spring limited outdoor work, which limited ideal return opportunities. Bryant could emerge as the guy at punt return, though Tarean Folston and Torii Hunter Jr. may contend for chances as well.
One way-too-early prediction

Notre Dame will average better than 30 points per game for the first time in the Kelly era. In Golson, the Irish have the ideal quarterback in place to run the Kelly offense. And with the defense taking massive personnel hits up front while adjusting to a new scheme, the offense will be relied on more than ever to stretch the field, carry the load and put points on the board.

Little clarity among crowded receivers

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It was hard for Notre Dame to differentiate among its wide receivers throughout the spring. Just ask Mike Denbrock about any one of them -- in this case, Torii Hunter Jr.

"He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road," the Irish offensive coordinator said. "Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."

Hunter saw action mostly on the outside this spring. Like most of his peers, however, the redshirt freshman also played in the slot. He had once expressed hopes of following in the footsteps of TJ Jones, last year's team MVP, by playing all over the field. But he was less direct when asked on the eve of the spring game.

"It just depends," Hunter said. "I just want to play wherever the coaches need me. I just want to see the field. If it does end up being the way TJ was used then definitely that's the way I'll be."

This isn't all necessarily a bad thing for Notre Dame; it's just the way things are until DaVaris Daniels' presumed summer return. From the towering Corey Robinson to the early enrollee Justin Brent, it was an all-hands-on-deck operation for Irish wideouts this spring.

There are no fewer than seven scholarship players fighting for meaningful roles this fall. But the pecking order -- let alone knowing who will line up where to begin with -- is really anyone's guess.

"I don't think that that's going to happen in June, per se," head coach Brian Kelly said. "These guys need so much development work, Amir Carlisle needs to continue to develop. Chris Brown has got to continue to work on a number of things. Will Fuller. A lot of that is development work that in June will continue to take place. Then we're very hopeful that if things go the right way, Daniels comes back to us.

"We got a very competitive situation with Robinson, Daniels, Fuller, Brown, Carlisle. We've got a nice situation there. I think it's a just competitive situation. We've got to get the best players on the field, because the tight end is going to be on the field as well. I like to keep a tight end on the field.

"So we're talking about three positions and arguably you've got, half a dozen guys there that can compete. So what's going to be the deciding factor for me is, I'm not settled on any one of those guys right now. I think it will be a very competitive situation. I think they are going to push each other and we're going to be the beneficiary. Notre Dame's offense is beginning to be the beneficiary."

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
9:00
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Thanks for chiming in. As always, feel free to tweet any more questions you have here or drop 'em in the mailbag.

Away we go ...

Brendan Shaw from Raleigh, N.C. writes: Hi Matt, doing a great job as usual! This is a long shot, but is there any chance Kelly puts in a two-QB package to mess with the opposing defense? If you think about it, having two dual-threat QBs on the field simultaneously gives you a minimum of a quadruple threat in the backfield. Opposing d-coordinators may just quit football after trying to figure that out for a quarter or two. Regards, Brendan.

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Brendan. Having both quarterbacks on the field at the same time? That would be news to me, especially since I haven't seen either of these guys try their hands at something other than quarterback. That being said, I'd be surprised if Malik Zaire didn't see some meaningful action during the season, as I am sure Brian Kelly and the staff will do everything they can to keep him engaged. He seems to have another gear as a runner, and he could certainly be useful in some red-zone packages as well, as the Fighting Irish have struggled to punch it in down there so much in recent years. I wonder if throwing a lefty in in the middle of a game could prove to be a nice little wrinkle, too.

Mike S. from Chicago writes: Hi Matt, great work as always. Question: how is the schedule for ACC games determined each year? We know it's a rotation with up to five games, but how are the opponents determined each season and how are home-and-aways done?

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Mike. It is, by all accounts, a collaborative effort. And the ACC has shown some flexibility so far to accommodate the Irish, allowing them to play four conference games in 2014 and six in 2015 because of previous schedule arrangements. Both parties plan on keeping things that way, hoping to blend a balance so that a) Notre Dame isn't facing a death row of Florida State/Clemson/Miami in a given season (just using those teams as an example) b) the Irish can fill their 6-5-1 scheduling arrangement (six at home, five on road, one Shamrock Series) and c) so that they play all 14 ACC teams over a three-year span. As you can see, it takes a lot of legwork from all sides, which explains why we didn't know the Irish's 2014 schedule until December of this year (and why the school released three years of schedules at once).

Michael Fry writes: Hi Matt, I have 3 questions for you: 1. Since he arrived on campus last year, und.com has made a point of showing spectacular catches from No. 88. Having seen some live practice, can you comment on how he is doing overall in terms of route-running and consistency in catching the ball? Right now, he is presented as a catch-everything kind of guy 2. Footage of Zaire looks great but, coming back to the theme of No. 1, what kind of a QB competition would this be if Brian Kelly had not called it already in Golson's favor? Would it be close or are we talking different stratospheres? 3. Defense -- just looking for some thoughts on who was off the radar last year but who fits well into the new DC's system well. Thanks for the great blog -- keeps the off-season interesting.

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Michael. Corey Robinson seems to dominate every time us media folks are at practice, too. He has natural size and athletic ability, giving the quarterback a wider margin of error when matching up with smaller corners. Part of that, of course, is also because Notre Dame's corners are relatively green outside of KeiVarae Russell. That said, Robinson needs to put on more strength so he can win some battles along the line of scrimmage and gain some more separation downfield. But last spring's transfers, and this spring's absence of DaVaris Daniels, has given Robinson more opportunities to make an impression. Kelly has stated that he absolutely loves coaching him because of his willingness to accept coaching and not make the same mistake twice. As for the quarterback question, I'm not sure it's still close, but that shouldn't negate from the progress that Zaire has made this spring.

I don't think anyone seriously expects someone other than Everett Golson to be starting come Week 1, but I do think Zaire will see meaningful snaps this season, and the fact there are only two scholarship quarterbacks this spring will prove to be beneficial for the lefty in the long run. Kelly was right to publicly open things up.

Lastly, everyone has been raving about Sheldon Day, who is not exactly off the radar but who was limited last season because of an ankle injury. I'd expect to see a breakout campaign from him along the line, and I wouldn't be surprised if Jarron Jones took his game up another level as well, as the redshirt sophomore has said to us how much more fun he is having in the new system.

Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill. writes: Hey Matt! Thanks for answering all of these questions. I know I enjoy reading your answers. My question today is focused on the linebackers. It seems like they are set at outside, but who's going to play middle? Will Nyles Morgan come in and make an impact right away? Could they move Jaylon Smith? Thanks!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Thomas. I'd say the only sure things at linebacker across the board right now are Joe Schmidt and Smith. Brian VanGorder absolutely raved about Schmidt when asked last week, and we all know what kind of potential Smith flashed during his strong rookie campaign in 2013. Smith has described his position as sort of a hybrid between the Mike and Sam. I'm curious to see the fallout of Jarrett Grace's second operation. He seemed to come along better than anyone over the first half of last season before breaking his leg, and Kelly said the Irish won't know his exact prognosis now until about six weeks after the operation, which took place March 28. If he can come back to camp in full-force, I think that will be huge. If not, I think Morgan could certainly make an impact upon his arrival this summer, probably not unlike the one we saw last year from Smith before he started every game in the fall.

Irish counting on young receivers

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly wants more out of all of them, because that's just the way the head coach is wired. Mike Denbrock is not displeased with any of them, because six practices into spring ball would be an awfully early time for the offensive coordinator to heap any significant praise on a green group.

If Notre Dame's offense is going to break out in the fashion all expect now that it has a proven, dynamic quarterback in Everett Golson, it's going to need its receivers to take the next step. And these final three weeks of spring practice will probably go a long way in determining whether such a leap can occur, especially with headliner DaVaris Daniels exiled until the summer because of an academic matter.

"Now, it's kind of been funny, when I have a question, I have to figure it out as opposed to last fall," Corey Robinson said. "DaVaris played 'W' a lot -- whenever I had an issue, I'd go to him and he'd help me out, or I'd go to TJ [Jones]. Now I have to figure it out, and some of the younger guys who didn't play last year are coming to me and asking me what to do. That's really forced my hand -- and I know it's the same for Breezy (Chris Brown) and C.J. (Prosise). We have to know the offense better and it kind of puts pressure on us to do that so when questions are asked we can help out."

Robinson has raised eyebrows for the second spring in a row, this time for more than just his frame. The 6-foot-4.5, 205-pound son of hoops Hall of Famer David Robinson has asserted himself more after a nine-catch, 157-yard, one-touchdown rookie campaign, with Kelly saying the sophomore has pleased him more than anyone else at the position.

"He does exactly what I ask him to do all the time," Kelly said, loud and deliberately. "And he does it right. Now he may screw it up the first time, but you coach him and he does it right the second time. I love that kid.”

"They try to do it right," Kelly later added of the others when asked. "They all try to do it right. He does it right the second time. He's fun to coach."

Denbrock said the experience of Brown has made him the steadiest of the bunch, as his junior status and 17 career grabs for 265 yards and a score are all tops on the current roster.

It helps that youngsters like Robinson and
Will Fuller
(six catches, 160 yards, TD) got their feet wet last season as freshmen, but there are still projects in spring enrollee Justin Brent and Torii Hunter Jr., who redshirted last season while recovering from a broken left leg suffered in high school.

"If you look at those other guys, it’s still new to them," Denbrock said. "We’re really working hard at all positions on offense because of our youth and gaining that type of consistency play in and play out that you need to control the game from the offensive side of the ball."

Irish lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
11:00
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Bracket hanging in there ... barely.

Notre Dame mailblog

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
9:00
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It has been a while. What's on your minds?

Scott from St. Joseph, Mich., writes: Matt, disagree about Michigan State easily being the highlight of the season. The game was marred with questionable penalties and calling by MSU's staff. To me the highlight of the season was the second-half defense against USC. Being able to beat your biggest rival basically without a functional QB and on the hands of a defensive performance remnant of '12 was the highlight of the year for me.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPulling out a victory over Rose Bowl champion Michigan State was the biggest achievement for Notre Dame in 2013.
Matt Fortuna: I think both performances, to be fair, were far from aesthetically pleasing. And yes, we have to give Notre Dame's defense plenty of credit for its play in both games. But the circumstances are too big to ignore here. By beating Michigan State, Notre Dame helped reshape the national title picture. It was the only team to beat a very good Spartans squad, one that ended up winning the Rose Bowl. While it's always big to beat your archrival, let's also remember that USC was without Marqise Lee for the second half, committed 11 penalties and missed two field goals (from 40 and 46 yards), too. And I just can't erase the memory of the Fighting Irish offense coming to a standstill once Tommy Rees went down. No points from either team in the final 30 minutes of a primetime game? No thank you.

Matt from Pittsburgh writes: Matt, O-line starting 5 from LT-RT: Elmer, Hanratty, Martin, Lombard, Stanley? Also how do you see the D-line and linebackers forming out?

Matt Fortuna: That would probably be my early guess, though I'll keep a close eye on that group this spring since Martin will still be out. Matt Hegarty started at center in his place but provides plenty of flexibility, too, so it will be interesting to see where he fits into the picture next fall. My guess for defensive line would be Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, only because I don't know how ready Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) is. If he's 100 percent, it's easy to see him starting. And I'm anxious to watch Chase Hounshell, who saw the field as a true freshman in 2011 but has missed the last two seasons with shoulder injuries. Same with Jarrett Grace at the mike linebacker position (probably not this spring), with possibly Kendall Moore starting next to him. Jaylon Smith (dog) and Ishaq Williams (cat) will be expected to start if and when Brian VanGorder employs a 3-4 scheme, though he said last week he had not delved into schematics yet. Could we see Williams and/or Romeo Okwara play on the line some more? And where will Ben Councell fit into the picture once he's back from his ACL tear?

Jim from Chicago writes: Matt, What role do you see Torii Hunter Jr. having next year? Seemed to be the most athletic freshman WR before the injury. Can he work his way into the rotation with Daniels out in spring ball?

Matt Fortuna: He's the guy on offense, outside of Everett Golson, whom I most want to see this spring. The opportunities will be there for the taking with Daniels gone until the fall, and Hunter was able to battle back from that nasty leg injury to win offensive scout team player of the year. I'm also curious to see what kind of improvements Corey Robinson can make, given his size and potential. In limited practice viewings he seemed to be always making plays, but in games this season there were times where he looked like he could've used a couple of extra pounds.

Chris Kosiak (@C_K_42) writes: Justin Brent going to push for playing time next year? Or does he RS?

Matt Fortuna: It's probably too early to say, though, like Hunter, he'll have a great opportunity to showcase himself this spring with Daniels out. Last year Robinson and James Onwualu enrolled early and ended up taking advantage of the spring transfers of Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, resulting in playing time during the 2013 season. Notre Dame's receiving corps was young then and is young again now, so playing time will likely be there for the taking.

Michael Hughes (@designwithmike) writes: More important to ND success in '14: Red-zone execution or finding good to great defensive leadership?

Matt Fortuna: Good question. I'll go with red-zone execution, since I expect this Notre Dame team to rely much more on its offense than it has so far in the Brian Kelly era. And that means the Irish will have to capitalize on more red-zone opportunities and score more points. With Golson back at the helm after a semester spent training with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. and an improving backfield, I think you'll see the Irish take more chances offensively. None of this is to minimize the importance of defensive leadership, but that's just such an unknown factor at this point, especially since we have yet to see these players get coached by and respond to VanGorder, who seems nothing like Bob Diaco from a personality standpoint.

Recapping Friday's 'The Echoes'

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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Brian Kelly's bigger workload was on display already Friday night, when the Notre Dame head coach presented not one, not two, not three, but four different awards during the Irish's awards banquet, named "The Echoes" for the second straight year.

He did say on Saturday, however, that he does not expect any more of his assistants to leave, and that was seemingly confirmed shortly afterward by defensive line coach Mike Elston, whose first-ever tweet was the announcement he's staying at Notre Dame. (There had been some chatter that he could follow Bob Diaco to UConn to become the Huskies' defensive coordinator.)

As for the awards show, TJ Jones took home team MVP honors in a team vote that Kelly said wasn't even close. (Yours truly had predicted Jones as the winner beforehand, just as he had predicted the correct final score of the Stanford game.)

Jones easily took home best-dressed honors on the night, wearing a burgundy suit with a bowtie and some hipster glasses. Corey Robinson and Chris Watt were among the bowtie-wearers as well.

The biggest news, or non-news, of the night came when Stephon Tuitt met with the media afterward, saying he remains undecided on his future.

As for the big winners on Friday...
There was also in-show fan voting for best hit and best catch honors, which went to Tuitt and Jones for their plays against USC.

Irish lunch links

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
12:00
PM CT
Congrats, Boston. And Happy Halloween to all!

Planning for success: Notre Dame

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Corey Robinson and his dad never talk football. Dad doesn't know anything about the sport, Corey said, and Corey feels as if he himself still has a lot to learn about the game despite playing it every day.

Saturday will nonetheless present quite the family conflict for the Robinsons when Corey takes the field for No. 25 Notre Dame against Navy, his father's alma mater. It was with the Midshipmen that his father, a pretty tall guy by the name of David RobinsonDavid, helped set himself up to be taken No. 1 overall by the San Antonio Spurs and win two championships during a 14-year Hall of Fame NBA career.

[+] EnlargeCorey Robinson
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCorey Robinson knows his dad, David, made a name for himself at Navy before embarking on a Hall of Fame NBA career, but he hopes to get him to support Notre Dame when the Irish play the Midshipmen.
"I need to talk to my dad about this, make sure he's wearing my jersey or wearing Notre Dame something as opposed to Navy," Corey Robinson said of this weekend's matchup. "But I think my grandpa who also served in the Navy might be wearing Navy. I don't know. There's a lot of Navy happening right now. I need to change that."

A freshman receiver with the Irish, Robinson reached the end zone for the first time this past Saturday against Air Force, hauling in a 35-yard pass from Tommy Rees for Notre Dame's first touchdown. He has five catches for 101 yards through eight games after enrolling this past spring.

He would always visit his father's old campus in Annapolis, Md., for older reunions and such, but Notre Dame's offer sent him in another direction when choosing a college out of San Antonio Christian High.

"I think he was happy, because he was telling me horror stories," Robinson said of his dad. "I think he was trying to scare me out of it. He was all like, ‘You have to wake up at 5 in the morning, and all the PT we had to do in addition to basketball and football.' He said he didn't get any sleep the whole time. He's a smart guy, and he told me he got some bad grades his first couple years. And I was like, ‘Hmm, I don't know if that's for me or not.’ I think he was actually happy when I told him I wanted to go somewhere else."

The 6-foot-4.5, 205-pound Robinson will probably never reach his father's height of 7-1. David Robinson has been a fixture at Irish games so far, gestures that Corey appreciates, though he gives off little sign that he is a son with a famous father.

"He's a very easy-going guy, it seems like he never really gets riled up, never really seen him get upset or anything like that," Rees said. "He's extremely competitive and you can tell the way that he grew up there's a lot of structure, a lot of different -- this is how you work, this is what's expected of you. And he does a great job of coming in every day eager to learn and eager to get better."

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the weight of the game had yet to dawn upon Robinson. Right now it is another military academy and another option-offense that stands in the way of the Irish extending their winning streak to four in a row as they make a late run toward a BCS-bowl berth.

That sentiment probably does not run throughout the family, though.

"So far it's another game. I think for my dad, it means a little more to him," Robinson said. "I'm excited to play Navy. But at the end of the day, we've got to get the win. it doesn't matter who we're playing. I respect them and I respect what they do and I'm excited to go play a school that I wanted to go to for a very long time, that my dad's helped out a lot. But we have to get the W."

What we learned: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
10:00
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Here is what we take away from Notre Dame's 45-10 win Saturday at Air Force:

1. Tommy Rees can play, remember? Rees had one of the best outings of his career, completing 17 of 22 passes for 284 yards with a career-high five touchdowns to five different receivers -- a Notre Dame first. He got to take the fourth quarter off for his efforts, which came a week after a neck strain forced him out of the USC game in the third quarter. He now has 54 career touchdown passes, as he topped Ron Powlus (52) to move into third place on the school career list. He also gave way to Andrew Hendrix, who hit Will Fuller for a 47-yard strike late and ran it in himself from 4 yards out for a score in some needed extended action.

2. Freshmen step up. Corey Robinson and Fuller had their first career touchdown grabs, and Fuller caught the aforementioned deep pass from Hendrix as well. Jaylon Smith also impressed in his first action against the option, recording eight tackles (tied with Dan Fox for most on the team), had a tackle for loss and recovered a fumble that would have turned into a touchdown if not for a blown call. Right guard Steve Elmer found himself at right tackle, too, and played well in his first career start, despite a false start penalty on his first drive that accounted for the Irish's only flag on the day.

3. Injuries are mounting. Brian Kelly said Chris Watt had a knee strain, but it did not sound serious. Sheldon Day, DaVaris Daniels and Ronnie Stanley all looked like they were banged up, too. We'll know more after speaking to Kelly on Sunday afternoon, but it was already a rough week for the Irish in the injury department after Christian Lombard was lost for the season and Louis Nix III did not travel for Saturday's game.

Bye week evaluations: Offense

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
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Notre Dame's first bye week comes at the season's midway point, giving us the perfect opportunity to make a decent evaluation of what this team's strengths and weaknesses are following a 4-2 start. We'll break this down into four categories over the next four days: offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff.

Without further ado, here is the first installment.

OFFENSE

Grade: C+

Summary: Notre Dame is averaging 27.3 points per game, a slight increase from last year's 25.77 mark. Of course, part of that is a result of playing from behind, something the Irish did against Michigan and Oklahoma, both losses. They found themselves in another shootout this past weekend against Arizona State and proved they were able to pull out a contest far different from some of the meat-grinders they endured in 2012.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTommy Rees has nine TD passes and just one interception in Notre Dame's four victories.
Tommy Rees has been Tommy Rees. He eclipsed the 300-yard mark in the first three games. He threw two picks in a loss at Michigan, a game in which the Irish defense did the offense no favors. Rees misfired several times against a stout Michigan State defense, but he protected the ball and the Irish escaped the Spartans in a game reminiscent of last season. He became the easy scapegoat against the Sooners after throwing three picks — which Oklahoma turned into 21 points — but he received little help from his offensive line and receivers on two of those gaffes. Andrew Hendrix has appeared here and there, but Rees remains the Irish's best option at quarterback. Criticize Rees for his physical attributes if you must, but if you're going to get mad about the offense's make-up, blame the starting quarterback who got himself suspended for school this semester — after the program spent a whole spring investing in him to take charge. Rees stayed through the good and bad, has endured a lot more than most signal-callers has had to, and has kept a strong mindset through it all. Go back and watch the Purdue game, especially late in the second half, as he rallied the offense on the sideline, commanding the group's attention in a way only a senior with the respect of the entire locker room could. Brian Kelly has stuck by Rees, and he will continue to do so as long as Rees remains the offense's best option, which is what he is.

His offensive line has been stellar in pass protection, ranking eighth nationally in fewest sacks allowed per game (.60), surrendering just four on the season. That's all the more impressive when you consider Rees' lack of threat with his legs. Still, the running game had trouble getting off on the right foot, tallying three consecutive under-100-yard performances in games 2-4 before George Atkinson III broke out against Oklahoma. The Irish continued to build off that ground success last week against the Sun Devils, rushing for 145 yards. Slowly, the Irish have made progress in that department, raising their rushing yards per game average from 114.3 to 137 since Week 4.

In the pass-catching department, meanwhile, TJ Jones has been every bit as good as advertised, with the captain hauling in 33 passes for 481 yards and four touchdowns. He has had two 100-yard games and a 98-yard effot, absorbing hit after hit and becoming the kind of reliable target for Rees that Tyler Eifert was in 2011 and 2012. He has gotten big lifts here and there from DaVaris Daniels (25 catches, 385 yards, 4 TDs) and Troy Niklas (14, 250, 4), and the Irish have regularly played true freshmen who have made some minor contributions (Corey Robinson, James Onwualu, Will Fuller).

Overall, the offense has been uneven, as it has yet to really turn in a complete performance outside of Week 1 against a Temple team that is still seeking its first win. The Irish appeared to be moving closer to that direction against ASU, but a pick-six put a dent in that performance. The bye week will serve them well as they prepare for a skilled but depleted USC defense that should give the offense its biggest test before Senior Day against BYU.

Up for debate: Notre Dame vs. Pac-12

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
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Notre Dame kicks off the first of three games this year against the Pac-12 with Saturday’s showdown against No. 22 Arizona State in Arlington, Texas. What should you be looking for? Glad you asked. Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna and Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell talk it over.

Matt Fortuna: Arizona State is a newcomer to the Pac-12 portion of Notre Dame's schedule this year, Kevin. The Sun Devils have looked great against USC, not so great against Stanford and, well, fortuitous in their win over Wisconsin. They put up 62 points last week against what was believed to be a good Trojans defense, getting Lane Kiffin fired in the process. So I guess we'll start there, given Notre Dame's defensive struggles so far this season: What makes Todd Graham's unit so explosive offensively, and what do the Irish need to really keep an eye on Saturday to keep the points down?

Kevin Gemmell: Tempo, tempo, tempo. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who Graham trusts to run the show offensively, uses “tempo” as a verb, not an adjective. As in, he wants to tempo teams into submission.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriNotre Dame will have to find a way to slow down D.J. Foster and the Arizona State offense.
They want to have as many possessions as possible. And they get that with a fast-paced attack that stretches and then compacts a defense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is off to another outstanding start, and a huge reason for that is the addition of wide receiver Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer who already has 31 catches for 433 yards. He gives Kelly that sideline threat the Sun Devils were lacking last season, and Kelly has been fantastic at spotting him on the outside shoulder and letting him make plays. Strong has been targeted 51 times, so it’s only a 60-percent completion rate when they look to him. But when he does catch it, it’s usually for a substantial gain; he averages 14 yards per reception.

They use running backs Marion Grice (12 touchdowns already!) and D.J. Foster in creative ways in the screen game and like to splt Foster out into the slot. Tight end Chris Coyle has also emerged as one of the top players at his position in the country.

How about the Irish? Things don’t seem to be going as swimmingly as they did last year. Only 25.4 points per game. ASU is going to blitz early and often. What does Notre Dame have to do to get its offense moving in the right direction?

Matt Fortuna: It will get overlooked because Notre Dame lost Saturday, but the Irish were finally able to establish a ground game, tallying 220 rushing yards against the Sooners. They had eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team just once before, in the opener against Temple. Junior George Atkinson III, who was the No. 1 back entering the season, finally played like it, lowering his shoulder and looking more like a downhill runner. He finished with a career-high 148 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Aside from not turning it over on their first two possessions and falling behind 14-0, it is very important for the Irish to continue to establish the ground threat early, as they often can become predictable in second- and third-and-long with a non-mobile quarterback under center in Tommy Rees, though Brian Kelly did insert Andrew Hendrix in for some zone-read, change-of-pace packages against the Sooners. Receivers must run better routes, too. TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels have been big playmakers, but they both had route-running miscues Saturday that were costly. Kelly has said that ordinary things need to be done better. The Irish also regularly play three true freshmen wideouts (Corey Robinson, James Onwualu, Will Fuller).

I'm interested in ASU's defense, particularly Will Sutton. Before the season, everyone had pegged this as a matchup of the two best interior defensive linemen in the country, between Sutton and Notre Dame's Louis Nix. It's been hard to gauge Nix's performance so far, as the Irish have faced some mobile quarterbacks and quick-strike offenses that have utilized the short passing game early to essentially take the line out of the game. What challenges do Sutton and the rest of the Sun Devils' defense present?

Kevin Gemmell: They like to blitz a lot. Todd Graham fashions his defense as a “hybrid attacking defense,” meaning at times they’ll substitute speed for bulk to create pressure from anywhere on the field.

Sutton hadn’t made much of an impact the first few games for a couple of reasons: One, they were facing mostly run-based power teams like Wisconsin and Stanford; two, he’s been seeing a lot of double and triple teams. Makes sense. His first step is so quick that it precedes his reputation. But he finally broke out against the Trojans with two tackles for a loss and a sack. I think, as the season pushes on, we’re going to see more pressure from the front seven based on the teams they’ll face.

That said, you have to look out for safety Alden Darby, who is coming off a fantastic performance against the Trojans. He had two picks (one returned for a touchdown) and has 19 tackles on the year. Hybrid linebacker Carl Bradford is explosive and Chris Young has really emerged, leading the team with 29 tackles.

The front seven is a little undersized, but it’s quick and if your protections aren’t set, someone will get missed with as much as the Sun Devils like to blitz.

Now that the Sun Devils are back in the top 25, it’s a huge game for them to keep some of that momentum going on a national stage. The Pac-12 is already coming off of the nonconference season with a 29-4 record.

Notre Dame, however, seems to be scrambling to salvage its national reputation. And with three games against the Pac-12, which many believe is the deepest conference in college football, it seems the Irish could restore some of that lost credibility. How do you see them matching up with the now Lane-less Trojans or Stanford in the season finale?

Matt Fortuna: Based on everything we have seen from both Notre Dame and Stanford so far, that matchup might not be a very pretty one for the Irish. Fortunately for them, it is not until the regular-season finale, meaning they have plenty of time to fix their issues in the six games before then.

The bigger question pertains to what kind of team the Irish will be heading into that matchup in Palo Alto, a status that will largely be dictated by their performances in both the ASU and USC games. The Irish need to get it together, fast, and Rees has to avoid a repeat performance of this past Saturday (three first-half interceptions) and get the offense going again. In theory, that should be enough to beat a USC team that looks to be reeling after the firing of its coach, though that kind of midseason move can have different lingering effects, good or bad. It's not like the Trojans aren't talented, and it's not like they won't be up for another night game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Still, I say the Irish win that one, especially coming off a bye. And especially with the threat of falling under .500, as a loss to ASU would make them 3-3 on the season. Notre Dame might be the better team, but the Irish have shown me little over the last four weeks that suggests that they are capable of keeping up with the Sun Devils' offense.

So that's an early 1-2 prediction for Notre Dame against the Pac-12 this season. What say you, Kevin?

Kevin Gemmell: I’m an ASU lean right now simply because of how explosive that offense can be. And if the Sun Devils can fix a couple of assignment issues on defense, I think they have the firepower to be a top-20, maybe even top-15 team. But they have to show they can do it away from home. A neutral field setting provides a nice opportunity. It’s close enough for their fans to travel, but it’s not a true road game.

As of today, we’re in lock-step when it comes to the Stanford matchup. The Cardinal offense is looking better and better each week. I thought back in April that Tyler Gaffney was going to be a game-changer for Stanford, and so far he’s shown that he is. That season finale could also have huge BCS implications, and I don’t see the Cardinal tossing one away at home in a game that could potentially lock them into a fourth straight BCS game.

As for USC, well, who knows? Haven’t heard any USC players come out and condemn the firing of Lane Kiffin. Maybe this move reinvigorates them? The Trojans certainly have talent. But as of today (as always, I reserve the right to change my mind), I’d go with Notre Dame at home.

What we learned: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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Did we really learn anything from Notre Dame's 17-13 win over Michigan State?

1. Limiting mistakes is sometimes enough. We all know that turnovers have cost Notre Dame in the past. But I didn't realize just how much until I saw this postgame stat: The Irish are 12-0 under coach Brian Kelly when they don't turn it over. They came awfully close a few times Saturday, especially on special teams, and Tommy Rees did not have a great day. But they won the turnover battle 1-0, which ended up being the difference in the game.

2. Run game needs to get going. The Irish ran for just 82 yards on 32 carries. They went empty backfield on a number of third-and-short plays, an oddity considering that Rees is not a mobile quarterback. MSU's defense is among the best in the nation, so the Spartans deserve some credit, but this was not the kind of start the Irish wanted on the ground through four games.

3. Rookies step up. Corey Robinson had his best game. Will Fuller made a 37-yard catch. Cole Luke and Devin Butler saw time together. Tarean Folston even got four carries for 12 yards. (Though everyone's still waiting to see Greg Bryant on more than kick coverage.) The first-year guys took advantage of some opportunities, perhaps earning more trust as the season progresses.

Week 4 helmet stickers

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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These three stood out in Notre Dame's 17-13 win Saturday over Michigan State.

Corey Robinson, WR: The freshman was the best receiver on the field Saturday, tallying a game-high 54 yards on three catches and drawing a pass interference call in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-4.5 Robinson should eventually turn into a nightmare for corners to cover.

Kyle Brindza, K/P: It's not every day you see a kicker and/or punter receive a game ball. Even less so when said kicker and punter 1. misses a field goal, and 2. has a punt blocked. All of that happened for Brindza, who was sick all week but hit a 41-yard field goal and averaged 42.8 yards on four punts.

Matthias Farley, S: Farley did not start on Saturday but came up with the game's lone turnover, picking off an ill-advised halfback pass from MSU's R.J. Shelton in the third quarter. Notre Dame converted that pick into a decisive touchdown in a four-point win.

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